Taking the Court by Storm

8 years ago

Her nomination to the Court may have been controversial (at least at first, until nearly everyone realized that not only was she qualified, but she was replacing, of all people, David Souter), but brand new Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is not allowing that to hamper her first week on the bench. Instead, she's proving that she was born for her job.

By mid-morning on the first day of the Supreme Court's term, it was clear new Justice Sonia Sotomayor would fit right in -- and in particular with her talkative fellow New Yorkers.

Sotomayor peppered the lawyers with questions in a pair of cases, joining with Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg during the oral arguments. Together, they left the other justices sitting in silence for much of the time.

In the first hour alone, Sotomayor asked 36 questions, and Scalia followed with 30. Ginsburg is particularly interested in legal procedures, and she and Sotomayor dominated the questioning for much of the second hour.

Consider me impressed. Most of the time, the newbie on the bench sits back and watches as the more experienced and inevitably older (WAY older in some cases) Justices handle the questions for the first few cases. Instead, Justice Sotomayor took the opportunity to delve right in, questioning the Maryland Attorney General on his appeal from the Maryland Supreme Court in a case involving the Miranda warning. Surprisingly, the LA Times compared her apparent position to that of Scalia's.

Maybe we're all in for a surprise. After all, as Kate Klonick of Full Court Press points out, we're only now, after her hearings, starting to get a feel for what Justice Sotomayor is really like.

She was obviously brilliant, well-reasoned and incredibly articulate — but beyond the occasional references to her Bronx upbringing and love of baseball, her personality seemed mostly under wraps.That was different from Chief Justice John Roberts' hearings, where he charmed the Senate Judiciary Committee, and more recently, Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s confirmation where she even got Sen. Arlen Specter to chuckle. Sotomayor seemed sterile in the week of hearings, probably in large part due to the fact that her identity with her race and culture (the infamous “wise Latina” remarks) would come part and parcel with any openness.

But finally, we’re getting a glimpse into Sotomayor, Human Being, and what we’re seeing is very likeable.

There will be plenty of opportunities over the coming months to see the Real Sonia Sotomayor, both as a person and as a judge, as she navigates one of the most exciting "seasons" the Supreme Court has seen in recent years. Colleen from News in Politics points out that cases up for consideration this year span nearly every ideological contention this country can produce.

The important issues that the justices will have to face over the coming months involve weapon restriction and gun rights, the display of religious symbols on public property, the verdict for juvenile criminals committing non-homicidal offenses, and international child abductions and parent custody thereof. Other cases include government takings, civil commitment for sex offenders, dog fighting, Miranda rights and terrorism.

Of course, through all of this, I and, really everyone, will be watching Sonia Sotomayor more closely than we typically watch for the results of reality television finales. Latoya Peterson of Jezebel points out that court handicappers will be analyzing everything about Justice Sotomayor right down to her facial expressions and the style of her robe to try to come up with some sign of how she will rule. Will she make Obama proud and become the Justice Scalia of the left side of the court? Or will she return to her history (she was originally nominated by a Republican and was once suggested as a nominee to President George W. Bush) and shock everyone by joining up with the court's conservatives? Or will she take after her predecessor David Souter and only be noticed as a Justice when something really weird happens, like property rights advocates try to take her house in an Eminent Domain related publicity stunt?

It all remains to be seen. Even Sandra Day O'Connor, who was interviewed by USA Today, seems to have no idea how this will all turn out. And not just the ideological position of the courts most recent addition. Justice Stevens, who is rapidly approaching 90 years old, is still not entirely sure where he left his car in the Supreme Court parking lot.

BlogHer is nonpartisan and even though I kind of was this week, generally as a Contributing Editor, I am not. See my contributions to the disintigration of partisan discourse at American Princess.

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